Website Speed and Why It’s Critical For Good SEO Results

Website speed and SEO are closely linked. Even if you have a well-structured website with well-written content that’s absolutely relevant to search queries a slow website can still result in lower rankings on Google. But why? Here’s an analogy I often use during training courses I give to clients. 

The Restaurant

Once upon a time, a couple opened a cafe. It was small but served outstanding food. As it was small they were able to serve their customers quickly and in no time at all their reputation reached a point where they simply couldn’t cope at such a small location so they moved to larger premises. The new location was a hit and more and more customers came. They were able to offer a larger selection of food but unfortunately, the service times suffered as a result. Their customers were often left waiting a long time for each course and event to pay the bill took a long time due to the popularity of the restaurant and issues with organising the waiting staff to work in the most efficient manner. The knock-on effect on the business was that regular customers stopped coming. The number of negative reviews about them on social media also increased thus negatively impacting the business.

The Restaurant analogy of website speed and SEO success are closely linked

Businesses that sell services online often face similar challenges to those of the restaurant in the previous paragraph.

  1. A company starts selling its services online
  2. Initially, the performance of their site is good but as the site becomes more popular load times decrease
  3. The increase in page load times leads to fewer site conversions, higher bounce rates and new business

Why is site speed important for SEO?

Google’s own research shows that 55 per cent of users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. In fact, website speed has become so important that since July 2018 Google now includes page speed on mobile sites as one of its ranking factors.  It’s also worth noting that Google now uses mobile first indexing of sites. This means that they focus on the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop one.

The user experience

Google is absolutely focused on ensuring that when a user clicks on a search query result that the site the user goes to is relevant, user-friendly and loads quickly. Think of it as the service element of visiting a restaurant. Yes, it might have fabulous food but if customers have to wait an hour before their food arrives they’re unlikely to return.

How to check the performance of your site

There are a number of tools that you can use to review the speed of your site. The first one to look at it Google Developer tools which will tell you if they regard your site as being mobile friendly. Test your site here.

Another tool that I personally use to check the response times of servers is the excellent Pingdom.

For a more in-depth analysis of site performance Webpage Speedtest is also a good indicator of how your site performs.

I have my website speed results and they’re not good what do I do next?

If you work with a developer, review the results with them. In my experience some of the common causes of slow website performance are the following:

1. Images on the site are not compressed.

Always use image compression tools to reduce their size and improve page load times. A site with lots of high-resolution images will always load slowly. If your site is running on WordPress use image compression plugins such as Imagify or WP Smush.

2. Unnecessary plugins/add-ons

Depending on the age of your site you might find that a number of plugins you’ve installed are no longer required. Every single plugin impacts loading time. Carry out an audit of the number of plugins on your site. What do they do? Are they duplicating the functionality of another tool? Also, are they updated regularly? Not updating plugins or third-party apps can slow down a website as well as create risks.

3. Shared hosting

The default website offering from a lot of web hosting companies is the shared hosting plan. While this might be suitable for a small blog or hobby site these are often not good enough to meet the performance demands of business sites, especially those providing e-commerce. With a shared hosting platform, the performance of your site is always dependent upon the behaviour of the other sites hosted on the same server. So if for example, your site is on the same server as one that is extremely popular and allows its users to download products from the site then the performance of your site will be impacted during the busy times of the other sites on the same server.

4. Use a Virtual Private Server

If image compression is used and you feel that your site is adequately optimised but you’re still seeing slow performance times, then shared hosting could be the cause. Many hosting providers offer the option to migrate your site to a virtual private server. This is a virtual instance of a server that is technically isolated from other sites that exist on the same physical hardware. You can think of a virtual private server as having your own reserved lane on a motorway. While other cars are able to use the motorway they are isolated in their own lanes which gives you the ability to be able to drive as fast as you like and not be impeded by slow drivers.

5. Use a CDN

A Content Delivery Network or CDN is a service that provides replicas of your website content closer to users. One of the things that can affect page load times is known as latency. The further away a user is from your server the longer the content will take to load. So for example, if your web server is based in Amsterdam but 30 per cent of your users are based in Germany and another 10 per cent in the UK, there’ll be additional latency that will slow down the load times of people in those locations. CDN’s offer a way around this by hosting replicas of your content in the UK and Germany so that the users aren’t affected by the physical distance between them and the server where your site is hosted.  Talk to your hosting provider to see if they offer CDN services. Here’s a comparison of some of the leading providers and their offerings.

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